Archive | April, 2013

You say Quinoa, I say Millet

28 Apr

Quinoa has created quite the buzz over the past couple of years.  It’s commonly labeled with terms such as ‘Superfood,’ ‘High in Protein,’ ‘Gluten-Free,’ and the like.  Even the United Nations is in on the fad, declaring 2013 as the International Year of Quinoa.

Don’t get me wrong, I love quinoa and think it’s a great food. But I also believe there are ample pseudo-grains (quinoa is technically a seed) that deserve the same attention that quinoa has received in recent years.

My biggest qualm with the nutritional benefits bestowed upon quinoa is its reputation for being a protein powerhouse.  Yes, quinoa is a complete protein based on its amino acid profile, but the quantities of several amino acids obtained in a standard serving are minimal.  Furthermore, quinoa contains little to no more protein than other grains.  Quinoa should be chosen as a grain option, not as a protein replacement.  If you’re a vegetarian, include legumes or soy-based foods (e.g. tofu, tempeh, edamame) in combination with quinoa for a healthy, balanced meal.

A rarely discussed benefit is its lower carbohydrate content (and in turn, calorie content) compared to other grains, making it an ideal choice for diabetics or for those struggling with weight management.

The nutritional profile of quinoa compared to other grains (or pseudo-grains) can be seen in the below table.  It’s clear that quinoa is not a stellar source of protein after all…

Per ½ cup serving Protein (g) Carbohydrate (g) Calories (kcal)
Quinoa 3.2 16 88
Brown Rice 2.7 24 115
Millet 3.2 22 109
Spelt (a wheat species) 5.6 27 130
Barley 1.9 23 102

Source: Canadian Nutrient File

Finally, nutritional merits aside, news reports earlier this year documented the uglier side of the quinoa boom. What was once a staple food to farmers in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador is now becoming unaffordable, forcing locals to turn to non-traditional foods.  Some consider this to be a tragedy, while food economists argue that commoditization of food can be a useful tool in helping poor areas improve their standard of living.  This is a debate that falls outside of my area of expertise but is certainly worth thinking about.

If you’re tired of quinoa, try this millet-based recipe for a change.  Millet is a cinch to prepare and has many of the nutritional perks of quinoa. The spices, chili pepper, and currants give this dish a punch of flavour and can brighten up an ordinary weeknight meal.

Curried Millet

Curried Millet
(from Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health)

See below for delicious variations on this basic recipe.

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds (optional)  *I couldn’t find these anywhere!
1/2 cup minced onions
3/4 cup millet
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 to 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes or cayenne
1-1/2 cups water or vegetable broth
1/4 cup currents
1/4 cup chopped cilantro or parsley (optional)

  1. In a saucepan on medium-high heat, warm the oil, then add the mustard seeds, if using, and cook until they begin to pop, about 2 minutes.  Add the onions right away so the mustard seeds won’t burn and cook for about 3 minutes.
  2. Add the millet and stir constantly until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the spices and salt and cook for a minute, stirring constantly.
  3. Pour in the water, cover, and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the liquid has been absorbed and the millet is tender, about 20 minutes.
  4. Stir in the current and the cilantro, if using, and fluff with a fork. Cover and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes.  Stir to fluff again. Serve hot, at room temperature, or chilled.

Variations (try as many as your heart desires!): Use scallions instead of onions. Use 1-1/2 tsp of your favourite curry powder in place of the spices. Replace the currents with chopped raisins, dried cranberries, or dried apricots. Use coconut milk in place of 1/2 cup of the water or broth.

Makes 4 servings. Per serving (3/4 cup): 192 kcal, 32 g CHO, 4 g fibre, 5 g fat (1 g saturated), 5 g protein, 183 mg sodium.

Newfoundland Cod Fish Cakes

24 Apr

Last fall, my aunt packed up her belongings and trekked out to Newfoundland to take up a one-year teaching position at Memorial University.  She recently returned home, but the holidays were the first time I’d seen her since she moved out east.  Always an incredibly thoughtful and generous person, she brought back little pieces of Newfoundland for each of her family members.

Stunning Newfoundland photo #1, courtesy of my Aunt

Stunning Newfoundland photo #1, courtesy of my aunt

Stunning Newfoundland photo #2, courtesy of my Aunt

Stunning Newfoundland photo #2, courtesy of my aunt

My gift—surprise, surprise! – revolved around cooking.  My aunt knows me well. I received two recipe books featuring Newfie and Atlantic cuisine along with savory, an herb commonly used in Atlantic cooking.  The first word that came to my mind while flipping through the cookbooks was ‘comfort.’  Lots of stews, casseroles, and baked goods.  Amongst the homey, high-calorie, or downright bizarre recipes (Caribou Ringalls, anyone?), a picture of cod cakes caught my eye.


The recipe naturally called for salt cod, but a variation using fresh or frozen fish was listed.  The cakes were easy to prepare: poach fish fillets in salted water, flake, and add to a mash of potatoes, parsnip, onion, and egg.  The batter was on the soft side, so a delicate hand was needed when flipping the cakes within the fry pan. The end result was a cake with a mashed potato texture and just a hint of fish flavour.  A great dish for those who want to eat more fish but dislike the taste or texture.

These cod cakes take care of both your protein and starch, so all you need is a couple of colourful vegetables or a salad for a complete meal.  We paired ours with Brussels sprouts and beets, but the options are limitless.


Fish Cakes
(from Traditional Recipes of Atlantic Canada)

1 pound cod or haddock fillets*
2 small onions, chopped
6-8 potatoes, cooked and mashed (3 cups)
2-3 parsnips, cooked
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
½ tsp to 1 tablespoon savory (or parsley, or sage)
1 egg, well beaten
¼ cup flour (or 1 cup fine breadcrumbs)

  1. Poach fish in 1 cup salted, simmering water for 5 to 10 minutes. Drain well and flake into small pieces.
  2. Cook onions in ¼ cup water, covered, until tender and soft. Remove lid and set aside.
  3. Mash together fish, potatoes, parsnips, and butter.  Add onions and water in which they were cooked. Season with savory, salt and pepper to taste. Add beaten egg and mix well. Chill until cool and firm.
  4. Form into 3-inch round patties and coat lightly with flour (or fine breadcrumbs).
  5. Coat a non-stick pan with cooking spray and set over medium-high heat.  Fry fish cakes 3 minutes on each side, turning once, until crisp and golden.

*If you have access to salt cod, substitute poached fresh or frozen cod for 1 pound salt cod. Cover with cold water overnight for 6-8 hours, simmer in fresh water for 5-10 minutes, then drain, remove bones, and flake the fish.

Makes 6 fish cakes. Per cake: 300 kcal, 47 g CHO, 5 g fibre, 4 g fat (0.3 g saturated), 19 g protein